Dans Son Jus!


Last week was such a social whirl it left my head spinning. After the move, Christmas, swiftly followed by the gastro, and then the flu and finally several weeks of intense cleaning I felt it was high time to open my doors to all my french girl-friends and give them a guided tour!

My first arrival, possibly slightly shocked at the rather dilapudated state, barely blinked but declared enthusiastically “Ahh, c’est dans son jus!”, 

The memory of this wonderful expression, and may I say typically french way of associating everything with food, my house like a plump duck basting in its own juices – nothing added, nothing taken away,  will probably stay with me forever. And I will cherish it, because my friend was exactly right. Nothing in the house has been changed, it survived the 1960’s and 70’s without modification: from the doors and their handles and the glass in the windows with its uneven and fragile surface, to the panelling on the walls and the iron railings onto the street.

Petit à petit (little by little) I hope to restore the house without losing its original charm. So today I am posting some “before” images and as time goes on will start to show you the changes. What I am really looking forward to is shopping for furniture at local brocantes (antiques/junk shops) once the work is done but for now one of the greatest modifications has been the installation of fibre into the house today, and my son predicts that my photos will upload instantaneously and that updating my blog will be heaven. Lets see if he is right!

The balcony in beautiful spring sunshine!WP_20150311_007

The steps and landing by the front door:WP_20140906_039

The entrance hall:WP_20140906_040

and looking back from the stairs:WP_20140906_021

The salon:WP_20140906_042

and the salle à manger:WP_20140906_046

The conservatory:Annonce1-photo6 (3)

One of the bedrooms:WP_20140906_002

and another:WP_20140906_010

and the master bedroom with “coin lavabo” (ante-room with basin):

Annonce1-photo8 (1)

WP_20140906_006

The attic beadrooms:WP_20140906_012

WP_20140906_013

and the “chambre d’amis” (guest room)! (I’m not too keen on sleeping there myself!

WP_20140906_018

WP_20140906_019the landing and the bathroom:WP_20140906_020

WP_20140906_008

and last but very much not least, the kitchen – hub of the house!! (Did I mention it doesn’t have hot water?)WP_20150103_006

WP_20150103_007

WP_20150103_009

 

As you can see there is plenty to do! For the most part these photos were taken before we moved in and as such, none of the furniture belongs to me with the exception of the cooker which was carefully placed in the space my super electrician hacked out for me! I have 12 sockets which work in the house and the rest are condemned with sticky black tape, which makes plugging in power-tools an interesting experience and I have already been blown off my step-ladder by an explosive hand-sander, so the next few months look to be interesting!

But watch this space because changes are already starting to take shape, and the garden shows great promise now that the spring is nearly here!Annonce1-photo1 (6)

 

What Have I Done!


The first night in the new house I lay awake until the early hours. “Husband à l’etranger” was still held up in Canada and the house was frankly just a little bit scarey. While furnished the house had had a certain charm, but once the furniture had been removed it was altogether a different story. I lay in bed oscillating between extreme guilt for having asked the kids to sleep in this “god-forsaken” place, and the horror of touching anything. At the same time I was actually just a little bit worried about what “husband à l’etranger” would say when he finally arrived to see it for himself. I rehearsed ‘ad infinitum’, “shall we put it back on the market” before succumbing to a comatosed sleep.

Thankfully our friend and electrician arrived early the next morning and set to work checking the power supply. Over the day he increased the number of sockets by 1000% since we had arrived to find only 1 safe and operational. By the end of the day we had 10 sockets at our disposal, five in the kitchen, one each for the children and one for the sitting-room, which, since there was no pendant light-fitting meant that at least we could plug in a lamp. The rest of the sockets in existance were hastily covered in black tape to prevent us using them, and by consequence, risking burning our house down!

The afternoon saw me buying a new freestanding cooker and freezer, and when I arrived back at the house I discovered that Gerald had gone beyond the call of duty, smashing out the build-in and lethally dangerous oven and  hob and the decrepid units that they were built into. Since the cooker wasn’t to be delivered for a further three days, and France is not a country known for pre-packaged ready meals, cooking dinner was a test of creativity and determination.

The kids were appeased by the fact that the internet was up and running from day one. This, a remarkable feat since the ADSL line into the house dated to at least a half century and had been bizarrely wired through the swinging part of the external door, meaning that on his arrival, “Husband à l’etranger” opened the door with rather too much force  and ripped the cables out of their connection and to the horror of the kids killed the internet stone dead.

Contrary to my expectations, “Husband à l’etranger” wandered around the house exclaiming every few moments how much he loved it, then rooted around for a mop-bucket, scourers and magic cleaning solution and got stuck in.

20150106_155134

If you think I was exagerating about the dirt, you may want a closer look!

WP_20141229_002

 

Not convinced?WP_20141231_002So there you have it – dirt at its grimiest!

20150108_140338

And me with the ‘wonder-fluid’. If you look very closely you can see the ‘before’ to the right- hand- side of the window, and the ‘after’ on the left.

So if you ever have a bad day, and feel that you are not keeping up with the housework, take another good look at these photos, and I can assure you that you will quickly feel a whole lot better!20150106_154912

 

 

Demenageurs, Cartons and a Rainy Removal Day


I’ve got a few minutes free this morning while I let my flue-ridden children sleep on a bit before I can get down to the second phase of sanding my new bedroom floor. I have a head-ache and am aching all over, but i’m not sure whether to atribute that to a day of lugging a heavy drum-sander around, or whether “la grippe” has also got me in its clutches.

I haven’t written for weeks because I seem to have an endless stream of things to do, and my 18 year old has already asked me if I will decorate her room before she leaves home. Since her Baccalaureat is in 4 months, that has certainly put the pressure on.

The removal day from the appartment was, as it should be in Normandy, drizzly and wet. Two days before the move, “husband à l’etranger” was blocked from coming home and the reinforcements arrived in the form of my in-laws. I think they were somewhat relieved to find that the boxes were all but done, and I think they had been more than a bit anxious that they might find themselves carting all my belongings down four flights of stairs to a waiting van. In fact I had booked demenageurs (removal men) and they turned out to be a real gem.

One of the most difficult thing about moving in the city centre is of course where to park a removal van since the streets are never free of parked cars, even for a nano-second. I kept an eagle eye on the street the majority of the afternoon before the move, and each time a car moved I made my way down and blocked the space with my car and then a series of rubbish bins, tying the lot together with a long piece of string and  attached notices to warn off any hopeful driver of pinching a space. It was late in the afternoon when the resident of the second floor appartment peered out of his window and asked me what was going on, only to find that we had both hired large removal vans and were moving on the same day. For what-ever reason the Mairie had not correctly checked their itinerary, and given the go-ahead for a tandem move. Unluckily for the second floor, I had the space for the van and the “monte-meuble” and they were forced to take to the stairs!WP_20141211_001

Never under-estimate a frenchman who takes his work seriously. Due at 8am, the men arrived at 7 whilst I was still in my pyjamas, hastily trying to shoo my kids off to school. Before I had blinked, the “monte-meuble” was installed and my belongings were departing with such a speed that I was lucky to actually find some clothes to put on at all.

WP_20141211_004the monte-meuble in situ
WP_20141211_007my table descends
WP_20141211_014a simple flat platform with no sides, nor straps to hold objects in place
WP_20141211_015on its way down
WP_20141211_016is that a bus below!

Since our local café sells take-out coffee, I was a frequent visitor to keep the men’s morale up, while the raindrops trickled down their necks, and by 3 that afternoon, without so much as a pause for lunch the flat was empty of all but our mattresses and our diningroom table and chairs. We had decided that trying to move into the house and sleep the first night was too much, and frankly, with the fatigue setting in from a gruelling day, and the dirt and grime of a house uncleaned for 40 years, I wasn’t sure I wanted to move in at all! It doesn’t take any persuading to tell a group of french-men that the family need somewhere to eat dinner, and by 8 pm were were all comfortably sitting around the table with a good bottle of red wine!

The “demenageurs” decided that to move the van back to the depot would be a great mistake bearing in mind the other family chomping at the bit to park up their own removal van, and so all my worldly goods remained parked up in the street just outside my appartment for the night.

The next morning the last items were gone before 8am and were unloaded into the new house. The movers did look at me somewhat astonished when I asked them to protect the sittingroom carpet from their damp feet, but clearly they did not appreciate the back-breaking job that my excellent friend and I had done with a carpet cleaner only a couple of days before. And if they’d seen the colour of the water that came out of it they might have been marginally more sympathetic. As it was, when the last item was removed from the van, they had only one thing left to say,

“Bon courage”

WP_20141212_004

Buying a House in France – The ‘Acte de Vente’ – exhaustion sets in!


keysThe ‘Acte de Vente’ for the final stage in the purchase of our new home seems many moons ago, even though only a month has passed since I met with the owner and the notaire in their grand offices of Rouen Gare. This time, as my wordly wealth was flashed up on the overhead projector I was manfully ready for the ordeal, and contentedly absorbed the praise:

“Bien jouée Madame, ce taux, c’est bien” – “Well played, Madame, that’a a good interest rate you’ve managed to haggle for yourself!”

And indeed it wasn’t at all bad. After visiting 13 banks, and narrowing them down to 4, casting one very slow and officious manager aside, we came out with 3 offers. At the last moment, having been rejected, one of the final two came back to us with a “new and improved” offer to try to clinch pole position and knock the courtier off his winning perch. But by that point I was too exhausted to care if they could knock off another 1/2% or not.  I’d already scanned, sent and received back via exocet missile mail the signed offer documents by husband à l’etranger in Canada, and nothing could persuade me to go through the process again, especially with only a day remaining until the ‘Acte de vente’ itself, although the bank assurred me that changing offers at such a late stage could be done…

So the proprietaire and I shook hands, signed our names on the dotted line and I walked out into the crisp December air with 3 ancient long keys dangling from my fingers.

It was a moment for a celebratory drink in the “cafe du square”, but husband à l’etranger was missing, and actually, if truth be known, I was dying for the loo, desperate actually, so ideas of a drink would have been  ‘un verre debordé’ (the proverbial straw that would break the camel…) and since home was equidistant, home I scurried, thinking, oh foolish me, that husband à l’etranger would be back to celebrate with me in style the very next day.

Not so fast, crazy English woman, when does anything go according to plan!

I received a phone call that very same afternoon….

A plus tard (till later), husband à l’étranger, A bientôt (see you soon) in-laws”

and settled down to pack up the appartement single handed, whilst waiting for a dual, more elderly set of reinforcements to arrive.WP_20140906_036

 

Buying a House in France – Getting a Mortgage or Prêt Immobilier


Yesterday a large fat white envelope appeared in my letterbox. After all the all the effort taken to get this far you would think that I would be dancing around the room, but the mortgage process in France has been such an exhausting journey that I gave the envelope the kind of look you would reserve for a very wilful and difficult child that has had a month-long tantrum! And perhaps thankfully I was too worn down to rip the contents out of that envelope as, had I done so, I would have surely annulled the mortgage offer inside, since in small black letters were the words,

“Do not fold or tear. This envelope is to be used for the signed return documents”

When you have lived in France as long as I have, you learn to be very very careful about all official correspondence as, no matter what, you must comply with the seemingly most bizarre requirements. I have learnt not just to read things through once, but to do it ten times, to never ever fill in a form with blue ink when it stipulates black, and always, always provide copies of every official certificate, plus a few extras, even when applying for something as mundane as a rail travel card!

But I digress!

You may remember that in September I “bought” a house without my husband ever having seen it, and underwent the scrutiny of the 87 year old owner and the notaire in a particularly transparent overview of my financial capability to buy the said house on an overhead projector screen! At the time both notaire and owner declared that the mortgage interest simulation rates obtained  so far were simply not good enough and that I needed to “have another go” at the process.

I confess to being a “detail” person, and frequently drive my husband to distraction, which is perhaps why he spends most of his time half-way across the planet, but that aside, I took the notaire at his word, and minutes after having signed the “compromis de vente“,  was striding down the main banking street of Rouen determined to come up with a deal.

There are a good 12 or so banks on the main thoroughfare, and by the end of the afternoon I had visited each and every one of them, and left with a date and time of “rendez-vous” with most and already in posession mortgage simulations from three. Last stop of the day was with the “Courtier” (mortgage broker) recommended by the notaire.

By the time I finally met with the courtier three days later I had 9 mortgage simulations in my ever expanding “dossier” file.

“Well”, said the cheerful and energetic Courtier, “have you passed by any banks yet?”

Proudly I nodded the affirmative, and proceeded to rattle off the names of all that  i’d visited, noticing that as I did so his face becoming less and less cheerful in proportion to the number of visits that i’d made.

“Vous étès sportive, alors” (you’ve been very proactive!) “what banks haven’t you seen?”

What I then came to learn was that once a client has passed directly to a bank, a mortgage broker cannot “solicite” the same bank for a further month. Since a time delay is stipulated in the “Compromis de Vente”, this put a finite limit on the length of time available to the courtier. Consequently he was left with my own bank, the post office and one “bottom of the market” bank, the only meetings that I had organised after that of the Courtier. While I held the lead players, the Courtier had his work cut out!

To cut a long story short, I selected three banks from my 9 simulations for the best interest rates and made second appointments to create a “dossier” (mortgage application) With my now enormous cereal packet sized folder, I supplied each bank manager with page after page of official documents; “Bulletins de salaire” (salary statements), “contrats de travail” (work contracts), I had several hundreds of those since each guided tour is covered under a separate contract. They photo-copied each and every one!), “relevés de compte bancaire” (bank statements), passports, electricity bills, and “attestations for Allocation familiales” (family allowance statements). I even had a “Bilan cardiaque” (ECG) up my sleeve and they took that too! And then I left thinking that that would be it……

 

 

But no!

I received emails from the bank managers; some wanted a copy of my “Carte de Sejour” (Residency card), even though EU nationals  don’t need one, others asked for “Avis d’Impots” (Tax records) going back three years, and all wanted proof of our “apport personnel” (personnal contribution), and I sent them all in and thought that would be it…..

But no!

It turned out that to take out a mortgage with a bank, we had to open up a bank account, which meant reims and reims more paperwork, no matter whether we might actually be offered a mortgage, and then the final crunch……

“Monsieur doit signer”.

Aha, I said, flourishing under their noses our “procuration” (Power of Attorney) specially drawn up by the notaire. But on this all three banks could agree,

“NON” they said, “Monsieur doit signer”

Since Monsieur was in Canada, and likely to remain there for several more months, this caused something of a dilemma. But since the “Compromis de Vente” required me to provide a mortgage offer by the middle of November, or lose our deposit, there was nothing left to do but fly Monsieur back. And Monsieur duly arrived for a whistle-stop four day “signing schedule”, and finally, the opportunity to finally see what house his wife had bought!

In France  a life assurance policy is obligatory when buying a house. A buildings insurance policy is only advisory. Having received an “accord de prêt”, a nod from the bank that the loan to income ratio is approved, the next stage is to be approved by the life assurers. This involves a detailed medical questionaire, and dependant upon the age of the applicant, a huge array of medical tests. In order to anticipate the assurers requirements, I had organised a appointment with out médecin généraliste to coincide with the “signing schedule”. All of the banks had already provided us with a medical questionaire, one of which needed completing by the doctor, and we requested that the doctor gave us an “ordonnance” (prescription) for every blood test he could think of. Husband à l’etranger lost the majority of his blood to the syringe that afternoon and the results were ready by the following morning. We duly supplied each bank with the results and questionaires, husband à l’etranger had just about time to sip one coffee in his favorite bar before he was back on the plane,  and sat back to wait for our offers….

And one duly arrived several days later from one of my banks …but with strings attached!

No sooner was husband à l’etranger back on Canadian soil than the bank, who hadn’t originally required a questionaire completed by the doctor, posted one out to us,…. and requested two further blood tests,…. and a ECG done within the last six months. When I informed the bank that there was a four month waiting list for an ECG, and provided an ECG done in the last 12 months as an alternative, the assurer gave us the standard response:

“Mais NON!, Monsieur” and the name of a cardiac clinic who could deal with the matter the same week….

..in France!

My own personal charms were no match for the Courtier’s contacts, and thankfully several days later I received a message that his medical assurers had no need for further information and that his bank’s offer would be soon in the post; and I sat with my fingers crossed hoping it would arrive before the ever approaching deadline.

So when the envelope arrived on saturday, you can probably understand why I was too exhausted to dance a merry jig round the hall!

After all, all that’s left to do now is to get Husband à l’etranger to initial every page and sign the darn thing and return it within the deadline, and despite the fact that I have the “procuration ” (power of attorney) to do it for him, it says quite clearly in bold black print:

“A remplir de la main de Monsieur” (to fill in in Monsieur’s own hand)

And you know what that means don’t you…?

But maybe this time he’ll get time for a second coffee!

 

 

Buying in France – The Compromis de Vente


There’s one thing more frightening than signing a Compromis de Vente, and that’s signing one without your husband or children ever having seen the house. The Compromis is essentially the first of the two major contract documents in the house-buying process. Essentially once signed, the buyer has seven days to cool off and back out without having to give any reason or justification. Once the seven days have passed, the only way out is either to loose the 10% downpayment of the agreed house value, or to be able to show a refusal from the bank of a mortgage application.

I have six days to go until my neck is firmly on the line, and I have already one child who is unhappy about the idea of a bedroom with a sloping ceiling. He should perhaps consider himself fortunate. If the mortgage application does get refused, and having given the statutory 3 months notice to vacate our appartment, it could be the sloping roof of a tent and not that of a plastered ceiling that he will be looking at!

WP_20140906_036

There are some major differences between the english system of house buying and that of the french. In the english one, either party can back out at any moment which also leaves the seller open to higher propositions from other buyers, and the buyer open to being gazumped. It all rests on the traditional english handshake, more often metaphorially than not.

The french system is protective to buyer and seller. The agreement on price and the committment to buy are  determined from the minute the two parties sign the Compromis de Vente. On top of this written agreement, there is always a handshake, and often rather hot and sweaty when one considers the enormity of what has just been signed! Should the seller decide to change their mind after the Compromis de Vente, they are obliged to pay the buyer twice the value of the 10% downpayment. If the house is burgled, destroyed through earthquake fallen tree or fire, the owner’s insurance is expected to pay for all repairs and the buyer has the choice to withdraw free of any loss of deposit.

It was a somewhat bizarre experience to arrive at the Notaire (solicitor) and find the seller already seated in the waiting room. But this is the french system, and both parties negotiate through the same notaire. There is no flying backwards and forwards of emails between independant solicitors, as in the UK, and none of the eventual delays caused by solicitors simply not responding to information requests. Neither is there the opportunity to start to renegotiate the price as a result of the diagnostic (survey of electrics, lead, termites,asbestos, damp  and gas issues) The diagnostic is for information only to help the buyer to be aware of any potential risks. It seemed odd to be seated around the same conference table while the notaire read through the entire contract, birth details, marriage dates, careers of the two parties, followed by the value of the loan applied for by the buyer and their persaonal savings. But since the loan application is the only valid reason for breaking the contract, the details are important and clearly have to be judged realistsic.

It was with a certain level of vulnerability that I saw my worldly wealth displayed on the overhead projector for all to see. The balance of my savings alongside the value of my mortgage application. It was only at this moment of “bearing all” to the seller that I got a view of the generation gap between modern-day France and that of my seller’s generation.

“Ouf, c’est assez important” – “Oh, that’s quite a large mortgage” stated the 87 year old Monsieur S

The notaire looked at me with some sympathy,

“C’est attendu de nos jours”  – “It’s quite normal for this day and age” he replied

“Quand même” replied Monsieur S,  “à mon jour nous avons mis un peu à coté, semaine par semaine” – “All the same, in my day we put a bit aside as we went along”

The notaire threw me another sideways look of sympathy

“C’est normal, Monsieur, N’inquiète pas” – “It’s normal, don’t worry”

but his gentle words of reassurance hit an all time low when the notaire turned to ask me when I would like to have ownership of the house. Not knowing what duration the banks took to produce a mortgage offer in France, nor what duration to expect for the administration, I suggested the typical time delay of the UK, around three months and Monsieur S nearly collapsed in his chair.

“Trois mois?” he stammered, mouth agape, “on inquiet sur le prêt, alors”.” Three months? Then you have doubts that you’ll get a mortgage, why so much time?”

“Aucun souci, Monsieur” ” No worries at all” I hastily assurred him

As I discovered, at the end of the 7 day cooling off period, the buyer has the right to 30 days to obtain a mortgage offer. And having both studied my current mortgage simulation, they both declared,

“You can do better than that”, “Il faut faire la concurrence,  Il faut les battre” “Make the banks compete against each other. Make them work for their money” and typically, as only it can happen in France, the notaire leant over with a name and a phone number,

“Tell Monsieur P that I sent you” he said handing me the name of a mortgage broker on a piece of paper.

As we were leaving Monsieur S stopped at the door,

“Si je peux reprendre le clé du jardin” ” If I can have the garden gate key back again” he said, putting out his hand for the old key he had lent me the weekend before so that my children could gather the newly fallen hazelnuts from his lawn.

I stepped out onto the street full of energy to take on the french banks, but poor Monsieur S  had a look that said he was perhaps fearing that he would wake up in a day or two and discover a family of six in a large tent in his back garden.

 

The Lion with a Friendly Face.


Today, right this very second, as I sit here writing, I am moving house.

Only this is not moving house as you would know it.

My house is in the UK, and I am in France. Believe me moving house is hard work, even if several hundred miles away from the house in question and the in-laws, the in-law’s friends (who I have never met), my parents and sister are actually doing the hard graft. My wonderful neighbour is making the tea and my mother in law has already made a bob or two at the local salvage yard.

Have you ever tried deciding whether to keep, bin or sell items described over the phone, when the items in question have long since deleted themselves from memory, or suffered the guilt associated with not actually being there to help? After all, why should these guys hand over a couple of their days to move my belongings when I am sitting on my sofa updating my blog? My fingers are twitching with the nervous need to be lending a hand.

In the immediate term the answer is simple, ‘husband à l’etranger’ is 4000km further away from the house than I am. I am pinned to my house because it is the middle of term-time, my buyers wouldn’t shift the completion date by one week to coincide with the end of term, any minute now four hungry kids are going to pile through the door, and ‘Petit Lapin’ is having her siesta on her inflatable bed in my bedroom. And thank heavens she is…

You see, moving house is hugely emotional, and leaving  a home means saying goodbye to friends and shutting the door for a final time. All of these things I cannot do – well save for being emotional of course, and i’m really good at that! When we left three and a half years ago we never said goodbye; no leaving party; no great fanfare;  I suppose we never really thought that we weren’t coming back. We left for adventure, and an adventure we have had and as we have undergone our adventure we have also transformed and realised that life has led us somewhere else.

Nearly every home that we have had has handed us the gift of someone special – someone that hasn’t made up a part of our family, but who has become family through kindness, generosity and spirited good nature. My neighbour became one of these people and she represents the best of my old home. In fact my old home used to be hers, until she moved into a house in the garden. She is so closely interwoven into the fabric of our family, that we could and would never disentagle her.

If I think about our old home, I see her coming to the door in the evening when ‘husband à l’etranger’ was working in France (funny that – he did once work there!) and holding out a plate of delicious stew for my dinner; I see her in my sitting room baby-sitting my children and refusing to take a penny; I see her walking across the driveway to haul away my basket of ironing, and returning it to me later on beautifully pressed; and I see her arriving with a cup of beetroot soup when she spotted me wallpapering a ceiling (carefully using my upturned face at a paper prop) during what normal people would call lunch time. And with my face as a paper prop, and unable to either answer the door or call out thanks, she left the steaming soup on the window cill. When I think about my neighbour I realise how I was blessed by her presence and when I think about leaving that home, despite the fact that I am not actually personally moving the remnants of furniture, I feel hugely sad at my loss.

Which is why today of all days I am delighted that ‘Petit lapin’ is taking a siesta in my bedroom; because at 7am this morning her mother knocked on my door and asked if it would ‘derange’ me (put me out), if I looked after her for the day. Petit Lapin had conjunctivitis and her mother had to go to work. And maybe I have had the luck to know more than most mothers how unconditional aide is golden, how it enriches, how it enables and how it embellishes life. I can’t help the people helping me, but I can help someone else.

When we first moved into our house our neighbour left a small clay lion with a friendly face in the garden to watch over us, and if there is one thing I can’t now leave behind, it’s lion. He represents my neighbour who watched over us with her friendly face, her generous gestures and her bonhomie.

Of course we’ll be back to visit – but for the rest of the time I have lion to remind me of  what I am leaving behind.

And for all those that have given their time and energy to us – Thank you!